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Abstract Academic: Fish and columnists stink in three days

Recently, I’ve been watching River Monsters. Have you seen this show? It has all of the elements of successful TV: world travel, a classy, rugged host with a British accent, and producers who make people bob up and down in water like Captain Crunch while hungry fish swim around them.

Jeremy Wade, the host of this show, is my hero. I want to be him. He’s a biologist and an “extreme angler,” which means he can casually flick his rod and bring an enormous fish into the boat. Usually, it’s a fish that outweighs my Chevy Cavalier, which is even more terrifying when you consider that 65 percent of the fish’s weight is in teeth.

Wade skips into lakes that are infested with eels thicker than my thigh. He routinely wrestles with bull sharks like they’re Shih Tzus. Most impressively, he once sat in a pool filled with piranha to demonstrate the important scientific principle that millions of people will do anything to watch a classy British guy sit in a pool with piranhas.

I want desperately to be like him. I want to casually throw on a khaki shirt and stick my hand into the gap-toothed mouth of a goliath tigerfish to get my hook back. I want to hop on a boat that runs down China’s Yangtze River, then dive into the murky waters, looking for giant Chinese paddlefish. I want to engage a giant stingray in a battle of wills as I pry it from the river’s floor with just a rod and reel.

Alas, I am but a wimp, especially where water is concerned. In my worst nightmares, I’m left to float in vast expanses of water, and sundry scaled sea monsters and bloodthirsty beasties rise from the depths and nibble off my toes, one by one. In fact, my three biggest fears are 1) floating in any body of water, 2) floating in any body of water and feeling a tentacle wrap around my leg, and 3) the same thing as No. 1, only I’m floating next to a cell phone salesman.

I can remember going on a scouting trip to Flaming Gorge Reservoir a decade ago. The primary activities of this campout, as per the usual scouting demands, were jumping off enormous cliffs into water, eating chili, making jokes about what chili does to the human anatomy, sitting around and jumping off even more enormous cliffs into the water.

I wasn’t born with the gene that makes teenagers want to destroy their own bodies, so I spent most of the cliff-jumping time out on the lake fishing for smallmouth bass and lake trout. I spent hours bouncing rubber crawdads off the rocks and into the water, feeling the sharp tug of a fighting fish. Sitting there in the sun, listening to the lake lap up against its rocky borders, I felt that I had found my true calling.

Toward the end of the week, our troop took a tour of the hydroelectric dam (insert “dam tour” joke here). I distinctly remember our (dam) tour guide gesturing toward a gigantic stuffed lake trout that was mounted in the middle of the (dam) visitors’ center. This fish was pushing 100 pounds, and the elderly guide casually said that they’d found a boy scout in its stomach. A boy scout who had last been seen fishing.

I had no way of proving or disproving his claims, but I haven’t fished since. I can manage to get into a boat, but whenever I look over the edge, I just see a gigantic, toothy mouth rushing up at me from the depths, wanting nothing more than to seize me and drag me down into the inky, black, icy depths.

And then, it tries to sell me a new phone.

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